Collecting quotes

Thanksgiving celebrations took place this past week across the United States, and if you have been taking a look at social media, you will probably have seen (in between Black Friday sale ads), a whole heap of inspirational quotes about gratitude.

(If you feel like reading a post about gratitude, here´s one from about a year ago)

Wooden scrabble letters forming the phrase "Say thank you"

My usual readers will have noticed that every now and then I like writing quotes in this blog, but not all the time, because even though I looooooove quotes (we could say I´m a quote collector), I get the impression that sometimes we get bombarded with so many of them that we end up overwhelmed, and then they no longer get our attention. That´s why I prefer to use them in small doses.

Today I do want to show you two quotes that are basically telling us the same thing, and they´re not the only ones by any means. It´s a message that´s been said a thousand times in a thousand different ways, precisely because it´s as true and as relevant nowadays as it was back in the ancient times of Greek philosophers:

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

Epictetus

Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

Untranslatable sentences: walking down memory lane

Today I´m bringing you another one of those "untranslatable" English expressions that I love, this one I think is a really cool metaphor: walking down memory lane, which we could loosely translate into Spanish as "darse un paseo por la calle de los recuerdos".

And that´s precisely what I´ve been doing this weekend: accompanying my friends in their own walk down memory lane, returning to places they hadn´t visited in many many years. It turned out to be a wonderful walk, both in the literal and figurative sense, and inevitably, we created new memories (thanks a million ladies!)

Stack of old black and white photos

In Spanish, the closest thing to memory lane that I can think of is something called the trunk of memories, from a famous song by Karina:

Searching through the trunk of memories
Any time in the past seems better than now.
Taking a look back is good sometimes,
Looking ahead is living without fear.

Another interesting metaphor, I think. And also during this weekend, I found myself searching inside that trunk, rescuing special moments with someone very close to my heart who passed away recently, and to whom I would have liked to be able to say goodbye.

I agree with the idea that it´s good to take a quick look back every now and then, and fondly remember the things that were, for at the end of the day, as my grandma used to say, "those times brought about these ones". But let´s be careful not to wallow in it for too long, or it may prevent us from making the most of the present moment...

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault

Traditions

Every time of the year has its own traditions, and nowadays in the Northern hemisphere, it´s time for the autumn ones.

In Cáceres (Spain), where I was born and raised, the first day of November is known as “chestnuts day”. It´s All Saints day, which is followed by All Souls day, when many families visit the cemeteries to remember the loved ones who are no longer here.

When I was a child we didn´t know anything about Halloween, or Diwali, or even the Mexican Dia de los Muertos traditions. And my family doesn´t usually visit the cemetery. But what we did do every year around this time was roasting chestnuts, so yummy!

Raw chestnuts

As years go by and we get older, we have the option to continue certain traditions, park them if they no longer make much sense to us, or transform them according to what we consider important. I keep many good memories (and a stack of photos, developed on paper!) from my secondary school and college times, when our group of friends used to go out on a trip to a nearby field to roast chestnuts. Then years later, when we arrived in Ireland, we were fascinated by the Halloween celebrations, especially in their most original celtic version, which includes bonfires, as well of other traditions that had arrived from Noth America, like trick or treating or carving pumpkins.

But even here in Ireland and surrounded by Halloween spirit, almost every year we still get together with a handful of irreducible Spaniards to celebrate a “castanyada”, as the Catalans call it, sometimes having a really hard time trying to find chestnuts to roast 😃 Though in reality it doesn´t matter, the chestnuts are just one more excuse to get together, the same way that we get together at the beginning of the summer to celebrate Saint John and “skip over the bonfire”.

Now in more recent years, thanks to living in a multicultural neighbourhood and having work colleagues from India, we have also learned about the tradition of Diwali, the triumph of light over darkness, which makes a lot of sense at this time of the year when the days get shorter and the nights seem to last forever. We have just changed the clocks here in Europe, next week it will be America´s turn, and the dark evenings seem to invite us all to enter hibernation mode.

That´s why I Iove Diwali lights, Halloween lights and even Christmas lights (despite it being a bit too early for those), I think they add a spark of joy at such a grey time of the year… At the end of the day, deep down, everything comes back to the same; lights and shadows, hope in seeing that darkness is temporary, and that better times are definitely coming.

We keep traditions because they give us a sense of familiarity, of comfort, of security. But as it happens with everything in life, if we take them too seriously, they can end up becoming a source of stress rather than a source of enjoyment, so let me leave you with a couple of quotes I like about this topic:

Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.

Lemony Snicket, The Black Book

Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.

W. Somerset Maugham

What about you? What traditions, new or old, do you have planned for this autumn?

Nihil volitum…

…Nisi praecognitum. This is one of the few phrases I know in Latin, and it roughly means that you cannot desire what you do not know.

Monkey with a mirror in their hands, looking at their reflection

It came to my mind today, along with this other phrase I read in a book by Laura Chica: Accept yourself. Love yourself. Improve yourself. In this order.

Very often in the world of personal development, we want to start at the very end: we become obsessed with trying to improve, overcoming our defects, and “fixing” the parts of our life that we don´t think are going well. We try to change our “bad habits” just by using willpower, making huge efforts along the way only to get poor results that are not sustainable. It´s as if we were trying to swim against the tide.

Wanting to change, to evolve, to improve, is a very positive thing. But if we approach it from a place of judgment and self-criticism, then all we´re really doing is beating ourselves up. Loving and accepting ourselves as we are is the necessary previous step for any long-lasting and successful life change.

But of course, this is much easier said than done; how can we get to the point of accepting and loving ourselves? The answer also comes to us from old wisdom, this time in Greek, through the famous inscription that used to decorate the front of Apollo´s temple in Delfos: γνωθι σεαυτόν. Know thyself.

It makes sense, doesn´t it? How are we going to love ourselves if we don´t even know ourselves? The better we know ourselves, the more we will understand ourselves, it´s that simple. As we dive deeper into the adventure of self-discovery, we will start becoming aware of what motivates us and what scares us, what our deepest desire is, why we do what we do (and what for), and it will become easier for us to forgive, accept, and finally love ourselves. And once we love ourselves, change happens from the inside out, without the need to force anything.

So, instead of starting at the end as so many times before, I encourage you to start at the beginning, by looking at yourself in the mirror and setting out on your inward journey:

Know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, improve yourself. In this order.

Untranslatable sentences: back to basics

Here’s another one of those phrases that I like to call “untranslatable” - it’s not that they’re impossible to translate into Spanish, but they sound much much better in English, in my opinion, and you have to kind of explain their translation so that people can understand it well (other phrases and expressions here, here and here).

And today’s phrase is “back to basics”, which roughly translates to “Volver a lo básico”.

And what are the basics? Well, it depends on the topic that´s being discussed. If we´re talking about decoration, for example, or fashion, it might mean choosing simple colours and lines, instead of more complex styles. If we´re talking about primary education, it might mean returning to focus more on essential subjects like reading, writing, and maths. To me, the general idea conveyed by “back to basics” is that we have become so sophisticated (in whatever area) that we have forgotten what is truly important, the basis of it all, and we must return to it.

It´s a sentence that can be applied to many situations, at home, at school, and at work. Today, I´d like to propose that we use it as a reminder to look after ourselves.

woman doing hand heart sign while looking at the sunset

Looking after ourselves first, so that then we´re able to look after others, or take care of our own tasks. Because, how often are our days so busy, and so full, that they go by without us dedicating any time or attention to ourselves? And by the time we realize it, we´re already out of energy, already exhausted.

It may be due to us believing that other things are more important, that other people must come first… But that´s not sustainable in the long run. I love the way Katie Reed expresses it:

"Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what's left of you."

Katie Reed

Would you like to have the energy required to give the world the best of you? Then I suggest that you return to focus on these four basic pillars, if at any point you have stopped paying attention to them:

  • Rest – getting enough sleep every night (enough hours of deep, restoring sleep), as well as taking short breaks during the day.
  • Diet – keeping to healthy, balanced, and if possible, natural foods. Also, drinking lots of water in order to stay hydrated, and practicing conscious breathing every now and then, to help oxygenate each and every cell.
  • Exercise – dedicating some time to move, even better if it´s outdoors, and often. If you choose something that you like and find motivating, you´ll be more likely to keep at it: your favourite sport, swimming, running, dancing, yoga…
  • Connection – finding the balance between spending time connecting with others (as we are all social animals) and also connecting with ourselves, so that we can "keep our batteries full".

What do you think about these four basic pillars of self-care? Would you add any others? Which one do you think would be good for you to give more time and attention to, at this moment in your life?

Not enough hours

Do you ever feel that your days are too short, that they´re not enough to be able to do everything you want (or need) to do?

That was totally me a few years ago when I bumped into a TV programme from RTÉ, the Irish national television, which was called precisely this: “Not enough hours”.

Thinking about that time, I remember I used to feel quite stressed out in general; in fact, the subtitle I gave to the blog I was writing back then (the previous incarnation of BinaryWords) was “fighting against chaos”. Because that´s how I felt: there was a lot of chaos in my life, and I had to fight against it, and everything seemed like a huge effort… Basically what was happening was that I had a full-time job, one little girl plus one more on the way, and a set of expectations for myself that I wasn´t able to live up to.

So that TV programme was to me just what the doctor ordered, for multiple reasons. First, I felt better when I saw that what was happening to me was also happening to many others, in different ways. Second, I learned several things that I found both interesting and useful; I´m sharing two of them down below.

And third, that´s how I got to meet Owen Fitzpatrick, the psychologist and time management expert who presented the programme. He accompanied a different person in each episode, helping them with their particular problem. I loved the way he explained time management concepts and then applied them to figure out solutions that truly worked for each of the participants... Later on, speaking with a work colleague (thanks Tim!), I found out that Owen was an expert in many other areas as well, and that´s how I ended up taking my first NLP course, in Dublin, back in 2013, with Owen Fitzpatrick and Brian Colbert 🙂

These are the two learnings I took away from the programme, as I remember it:

  • How perfectionism causes us more harm than good, and the “perfect” phrase to not let ourselves get blocked or stressed by it when tackling something:

It doesn´t need to be done perfectly, it only needs to be done.

(Owen Fitzpatrick, and many others using similar words)

Interestingly, even today, when I realize I´m stuck trying to perform a task to the level of perfection, what I hear in my head is Owen´s voice saying this phrase, and that helps a lot (it also confirms that one of my main representational systems is the auditory one, which is something I learned in his NLP course).

  • How the concept of time is something abstract, represented internally in different ways by different people. For example, when imagining a timeline, some people visualize it from left to right, placing the past on one side and the future on the other side, while others represent it perpendicularly, placing the past behind them and the future in front of them. Depending on your particular internal way to represent time, you may find it more difficult to get organized with a traditional format calendar, and if so, there may be other strategies that suit you better to get things done.

What do you think about these two ideas? What would help you to make the most of your time?

Travelling

I´m on holidays these days, and travelling, as many of you are probably doing as well. After two summers without setting foot in Spain, the girls and I have finally been able to come this year, to enjoy family time and good weather (heat wave included!)

Searching for travel related quotes, I found these three that made me think:

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

A really cool quote that I hadn´t heard before.

But in order for this to really happen, travelling (in the sense of moving from one place to another) is not enough; you have to immerse youself in the experience, keep an open mind, let yourself be surprised. In short, it´s what it´s often said about being a traveller instead of a tourist – the tourist gets back home and it´s the same as when they left, while the traveller lets him or herself get transformed along the way.

And it seems to me that it´s a lot easier to get surprised when traveling to a new place, which brings me to the second quote for today:

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Anonymous

A great piece of advice, in my opinion. Even though I admit that I tend to return to certain known places; when it comes to travelling, I´m not very adventurous... But, once I overcome that initial laziness and embrace adventure, I do enjoy a lot, and I learn loads, getting to know new places.

But hey, is it that we can only get transformed if we travel to unknown places? Well, not necessarily; I think what happens is that a new place can change our perspective more easily, it can help us to think and act in a new way, while staying in the same old places usually leaves us thinking and acting... well, the same old way 🙂

That´s why I liked this third quote so much, it was also new to me:

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.

Alan Keightley

What this last sentence is suggesting is that it really doesn´t matter where we are; our environment can be the same as always, but if we change the way we look, if we change our attitude, we will perceive it all in a new and different way.

Y a ti, ¿te gusta viajar? ¿Eres de los aventureros, o de los que prefieren repetir destino? ¿Y te consideras viajero, o turista?

Martha and Mary

I, like many others around my age both in Spain and Ireland, was born and raised in a catholic environment, so for many years, I attended Mass every Sunday and every religious holiday.

I remember several passages from the New Testament that impacted me, and one of them was the one about Martha and Mary:

 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Esta tenía una hermana que se llamaba María, la cual, sentándose a los pies de Jesús, oía su palabra. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work alone? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I think this passage caught my attention because I didn´t fully understand it, it didn´t make sense to me. Well, if you had things to do, then you had to do them, right? You couldn´t just be lazy and stay there… But then Jesus came and said the exact opposite, which I found mindblowing.

I didn´t even think of questioning whether those “things that had to be done” really needed to be done, or whether simply being, without “doing”, really meant being lazy.

And that´s because I was internally suffering that contrast (or rather, conflict) between what Martha and Mary´s characters represented: I was overwhelmed by all my tasks, which I felt as obligations, and when for whatever reason I dedicated time to rest or do something less “productive”, I felt bad afterward. I wasn´t comfortable with either one thing or the other. The result? A lack of sleep that lasted for years, and a big feeling of guilt.

Now that time has passed and I know myself better, I know that what´s really happening is that I have two different operation modes:

  • The “efficient mode”, where I have loads of energy and I´m super productive, be it at work, doing house chores, out on errands, etc.
  • The “quiet mode”, where I follow my own rhythm and take my time recharging batteries, in whatever way is needed depending on the moment.

What made all the difference for me was learning that not only both modes are valid, but they´re also necessary, they complement each other, so it´s all about keeping the balance. In order to spend energy, I need to receive it first. And because we live in the culture of “doing”, we need to highlight the importance of “being”, but if we focus only on being and never doing, then we don´t make progress either… Ideally, the two of them would go hand-in-hand and play for us, not against us.

Going back to the passage about Martha and Mary, what Jesus does is praise Mary for prioritizing the most important thing. Let´s do that as well: be clear on what´s most important to us at any given moment, and prioritize it, with awareness, in the best possible way and without feeling guilty.

Untranslatable sentences: food for thought

As I´ve already said a couple of times in this same blog, there are a few phrases and sentences in English that I love and for which I can´t find a good Spanish translation, and vice versa.

The phrase that came to my mind today is “food for thought”, which is basically something that makes you think when you read or hear it. The Spanish translation would more or less say “food for your mind”.

Which is what I aim to make available to you through these weekly articles: a few ideas and quotes that can spark reflection… and if we´re lucky, even a bit of action.

Here´s today´s food for thought:

The steps that you don´t dare take also leave a mark.

Grela Bravo

In what direction do you want your steps to take you? And what´s preventing you from taking that step that you haven´t attempted yet?

Chapters

I´ve always loved reading. And I guess it´s no surprise, having grown up in a house full of books, with role models like my dad, a die-hard reader, and my sister Cristina, another one, who was also my roommate… Let´s just say I had examples to imitate 🙂

Thankfully (and also thanks partly to Fredi and I being so pigheaded), the fondness for reading has made its way to the next generation, and our three daughters also enjoy reading, which makes us really proud. Because even though they´re also growing up surrounded by books, and we would like to think we´re a good example to them, as you know, it´s not that easy nowadays, with so many screens demanding attention through endless videogames, movies, series, social media…

The truth is, we´ve become an accelerated society, which finds it very hard to slow down. But the thing that can help us to counteract that tendency is precisely a good book: it allows us to take a break from our busy lives, and gift ourselves a little period of calm. It enables quality time with ourselves, and on top of that, it stimulates our brain in a very beneficial way, either because we´re learning something new, or because we let our imagination fly as we dive into a story.

Today my friend Inés was telling me how hooked she is on the book she´s currently reading… Is there anything more exciting than that feeling of wanting to read just one more chapter? Or the feeling of staying up reading until really late at night during the holidays, knowing you don´t have to get up early the following morning? That was the best thing in the world when I was a child, I truly miss it.

There are loads of quotes on the topic of reading; today I´d like to share two of them with you, and the second one, to be honest, is not even about books! You´ll see.

Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.

Louis L’Amour

This first one is clear, right? When a book has an impact on us, there´s always something new, a new perspective, some new learning, that expands our vision of the world, and somehow changes us a little. And it doesn´t happen only with books, it happens with every experience we have in life, as if our life itself was a book, and we kept making progress with each chapter.

But beware, for the book of life contains a hidden danger...

  You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

Michael McMillian

… And it´s the danger of getting stuck in a certain “chapter”, in a story that we keep telling ourselves, again and again, and that´s preventing us from moving forward. An infinite loop… Until the moment we decide to break out of it and carry on.

And what about you, what story are you telling yourself? Are you making progress through the chapters? Or are you stuck?